By Paul Suplee,
MBA, CEC, PC-3
I look at wholesale pricelists and I want to cry. Calamari is just about non-existent, or at least good squid is. Beef and seafood prices are through the roof, and even the lesser cattle cuts cost as much as tenderloin did a few years ago.
But nothing breaks my heart as much as the price of crabmeat this year. I have sold exactly eight crabcakes since May between both restaurants, and those cost my guests $25 a piece. We’re talking “a” crabcake, cooked and cooled for a fishing trip, no sides, just a spicy tartar sauce.
At least they left me a review that read, “As I was eating my crab cake, I started to get emotional” and that was from offshore anglers (not always the softest or most sentimental of creatures). Truth be told, for the price that I paid for the crabmeat, that was a very low price. He’s an old friend and I did what I could.
Wait, did I mention that I have only sold eight crabcakes this summer? Tears are welling in my eyes.
However, I would be remiss of my duties if I did not share with you how much I tend to despise the idea of crab “anything.” As a raised Marylander, I understand the intrinsic value of the Callinectes Sapidus in our universe, but when I moved to the shore in 1999, I was shocked at the ubiquitous menus:
Crab cakes, stuffed flounder, prime rib. That’s it. 66.6 percent of the shore’s fine fare shared a common bond that simply ruined it for me. But I digress.
Back to the present, my heart skipped a beat this morning when I opened the price list and Maryland jumbo lump was “down” to $47 a pound. I was elated, as this means that the market is finally starting to drop.
There are a handful of restaurants that either stocked up on pasteurized meat or have long-standing relationships with reputable crabbers and suppliers, but the vast majority of us have fallen victim to the shortest supply of crabs in modern times, which then naturally correlates with the most expensive. It has been a ride from hell.
I have received complaints from regulars and tourists alike as to how asinine it is that we don’t sell crab cakes, and then I ask them if they would be comfortable paying $42 for a crabcake dinner, meaning with just one crab cake. Their response is typically that it would be ridiculous, and I concurred. Again, a ride that I hope we do not need to be on next year.
So here I sit, typing away and drinking wine (as Hemingway would say “write drunk, edit sober” … well, no one really thinks he wrote that, but rather Faulkner) and I can’t help but look back and reflect on how crappy it has been since the start of this pandemic.
Even more humorous to me is the notion that 2021 would somehow be better than 2020 in people’s perceptions. While we are hopefully past the worst of the demon, we fools who actually own restaurants are now faced with labor shortages, food shortages, greatly increased product costs and to top it all off, the great unknown on the exponential variants that are marching down the aisle of life. We are still in unprecedented times, regardless of how much we want to believe that we are done with this mess. It never ends.
“And then the lumber prices” I think to myself as I chortle. I think I have officially become an old man, complaining about everything and holding up the line at the grocery store as I rummage through my pockets for exact change.
“I think I have that. No, I’m sure I have it. Dammit, I know I have it. Hold on, there’s one more pocket. No, sorry, I don’t have it. Can I get the money back that I just handed you and I’ll use my credit card? Oh, that didn’t work? I’ll just write you a personal check? Great! Thanks!”
And now, you all wait on me. I am now old.
makes 6 cakes or 32 minicakes
1# jumbo lump crab meat
1# Lump crab meat
1 c. Duke’s Mayonnaise
2 whole eggs
1 Tbsp. Parsley
1 Tbsp. Old Bay or JO Spice
1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
1 tsp. or to taste, Worcestershire sauce
1. Break apart the crab meat in a large bowl. Do not break up the pieces! Nothing makes me sadder than to pay so much money for jumbo lump crab meat and then see someone shredding it. Breaks my heart.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.
3. Back to the crabmeat, add some crushed Ritz crackers or Panko bread crumbs; the choice is yours.
4. Add the crab cake mix and very gently fold the mix and the meat together. Again, do not crush any of the lumps! This is so important.
5. When ready, portion the crab cakes or crab balls onto a baking sheet.
6. Drizzle some melted butter on the top and finish them off with a little seafood seasoning.
7. In a preheated 400-degree oven, bake them off until they are golden brown and cooked through.
8. Remove and serve immediately, preferably with a homemade tartar sauce (I like to add some spice to it through chipotle, but you do your own thing) and some cocktail sauce.
— Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts
at Wor-Wic Community College and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.